Does your School Have a Retention Committee?

By Drew Millikin | August 14, 2019
I recently came across an interesting thought piece on the challenging role of enrollment managers by Angel B. Pérez, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success at Trinity College, and Trustee of Berkshire School. 
Although written from the perspective of a role in higher education, the story felt remarkably similar to my experience as an admissions director at a New England boarding school. And, I’m sure I’m not the only former or current admissions professional who related to his summary of the position when he writes, “The pace is intense, the politics fierce and the animosity relentless.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, given my background, this got me thinking about student retention. We all know that old saying; that it is easier to retain a current student than it is to recruit a new one, and with the start of the new year, now is a great time to start thinking about retention. 
One question to ask as committee assignments begin: Does your school have a retention committee? 
A retention committee is not only a great asset to spread awareness of the importance of retention, it is also a great tool for engaging the entire school around the work of retention and enrollment management.
When initiating a retention committee, here are a few helpful questions to consider:

1 – Who leads it?

A – The part B to this question is who is responsible for retention at your school. Whomever holds that responsibility should take the lead of the committee.

2 – Who sits on it?

A – Some suggestions: Admissions, Student Life, Health Services, Athletic Director, Academic Dean, Marketing and Communications, Parent Relations.

B – It’s important here to think about not just the student experience, but also the parent experience. Parents play a huge role in whether or not a student will remain at a school, more so than in higher education. It’s important to have someone who is fully aware of the parent experience at the table.

3 – What topics are discussed?

A – It certainly makes sense to discuss any at risk students and come up with an action plan with specific steps assigned to individuals for each at risk student. Those action steps should be reviewed at the next meeting to assure that they happened. 

B – Celebrate success. These things can get depressing if all you talk about its the kids who are struggling at your school. Make sure you celebrate student and colleague success as well. 

C – Parent concerns. Hopefully you have someone at your school whose job it is to liase with your parents. If you don’t have an official role, your faculty and coaches certainly are having conversations with them. It’s a good idea to have someone who has their ear to the ground and is listening for any parent complaints or issues so that they can be addressed before they snowball into something larger. 

4 – Monthly? Bi-weekly? 

You want to meet frequently enough that nothing falls through the cracks, but not so often that there’s nothing to talk about!

5 – Share up

It’s always good to keep the Head of School up-to-date. A brief summary, one or two bullet points, should be shared with the head of school in your regular one-on-one (if you’re not having those as and admissions director, you need to be). 

Once you have a retention committee up and running, don’t expect pats on the back from your faculty. As Pérez relates, “If you came to academia looking for validation, you are barking up the wrong tree.”
You will feel better though, and if your efforts keep just one family in your school for the next academic year, well, then that’s just one fewer that you’ll have to recruit.

About Drew Millikin: Having spent 15 years working in admissions and advancement in both higher education and independent schools, Drew spent countless hours searching for photos on various servers and archives. Now, he’s joined the Vidigami Pros to help schools successfully organize and share their content in a private and secure manner, for marketing and communications, advancement efforts, and more.
P.S. Vidigami’s retention rate, by the way, is over 96 percent!